Picking an Agency for Long-Form Effort

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You've decided to use long-form advertising to promote your new product or service and have allocated a significant portion of your marketing budget to ensure a successful launch.


What do you do to recruit, qualify and retain the right marketing services company to create, produce and market your new campaign?


More and more Fortune 1000 advertising and marketing executives are considering this question.


Once relegated to nonbranded products without any form of retail distribution, long-form ads, or infomercials, which last up to 28.5 minutes, are used today by more firms to brand and market complex products and services to an increasingly fragmented audience.


Major marketers, including Philips Consumer Electronics, Mercedes, Apple Computer, DuPont, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard, have used long-form commercial advertising to promote and market their products.


Long-form television ads must be supportive of the brand, considerate of the channel distribution partners in place and able to deliver measurable sales results.


The new measurement is not "eyeballs," "impressions," "reach and frequency" or "gross rating points," but solid results in the bottom line. The new breed of Fortune 1000 company insists on accountability for its marketing dollars.


Identity Television


The use of long-form television commercials (which we have labeled "Identity Television") by Fortune 1000 companies is still in its infancy.


Consultant Roger Clarke's "Diffusion of Innovations" describes the way an innovation is communicated through channels within a social system. It suggests that consumers fall into one of five broad categories:


• Innovators, 2.5 percent.


• Early adopters, 13.5 percent.


• Early majority, 34 percent.


• Late majority, 34 percent.


• Laggards, 16 percent.


Applying this theory to Fortune 1000 advertisers, our research indicates we're in the early adopter phase. As a result, the majority does not understand the techniques used in selecting the right specialist to develop the campaign for Fortune 1000 firms.


How do you qualify and select the best candidate to create and implement the best campaign?


First, see whether your existing advertising agency has the expertise and experience in this form of marketing. The odds are that your traditional agency has never created or produced any advertising or marketing campaigns more than 30 seconds in length.


If the traditional agency lacks the requisite experience, you must search for a specialist to make a recommendation based on its due diligence. Some of you will want to handle this process personally, since the techniques used to develop a long-form television campaign are not mainstream.


Create Your Approach


The recommended approach is similar to that used to recruit a professional employee with a specialized skill set, such as an attorney or a medical specialist. The components of a worthy approach are:


• Create a job description that identifies the qualities and traits necessary to complete this specialized assignment. Pay as much attention to the intangibles of the relationship as you would if you were searching for an employee. Consider the culture of both your firm and the candidates' firms.


• Determine the minimum qualifications. Limit your search to companies that have been in business and performing in this capacity for at least five years. The last thing you want is to hire an inexperienced company that will use your project to learn as it goes. Additionally, inquire about its relevant industry experiences. If it only specializes in marketing nonbranded consumer products, think twice about letting it market your crown jewel product.


• Check references closely. Just as some potential employees inflate their resumes with nonexistent educational degrees and work experience, some companies take credit for work they never performed. If a company is dazzling you with its creative reel, find out who the primary client contact was and talk with that client personally; there is no substitute for actual experience.


• Be prepared to pay a fair value for the high-quality service you desire. This is not the time to engage a discounted company that might promise you more than it can deliver. You wouldn't hire Joe's Discount Heart Surgery to perform a complicated and delicate heart operation. After all, this is your brand we're talking about.


• Seek recommendations from executives at other firms that have used this marketing approach. Find out which marketing companies they've used, and whether they were successful. Did the campaign achieve its objectives in budget and on time? Was the company easy to deal with, and would they use it again? It's no coincidence that testimonials used in long-form advertising are powerful.


• Be wary of overly optimistic sales projections. Certain direct response companies have had recent success in marketing nonbranded products and services over a single channel - television. The rules of thumb for a successful product campaign vary widely by product based on manufacturing cost, marketplace uniqueness, offer configuration, media cost and availability of product at retail. Our industry experience shows that only 5 percent to 10 percent of nonbranded marketing campaigns ever achieve profitability. Make sure you're not seduced into thinking your campaign will be statistically different and will beat the odds.


• Determine your primary campaign objective. By using this format, you'll have the time to inform, entertain and educate your target audience. Yet, the most successful campaigns usually focus on only one outcome. If your primary objective is to drive sales at retail, don't expect significant television revenues. If you are trying to introduce multiple new products as part of an existing brand, don't expect significant individual sales results. The old adage of "picking one objective and executing it well" still applies to this genre.


As more and more Fortune 1000 companies search for innovative ways to brand, communicate with their customers and drive sales, the use of long-form television advertising campaigns is gaining acceptance.


Companies considering this approach are encouraged to do their due diligence in order to qualify and retain the best marketing services agency with suitable capabilities, experiences and successful track records.
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